Hromadske.tv: Non-partisan television channel in Ukraine
In 2013, a team of Ukrainian journalists tendered their resignation. The TV station that they worked for would fall under state control, which meant that they could no longer guarantee objective and unbiased reporting. The journalists decided to realise their dream: a public broadcaster in Ukraine. This led to the birth of the online TV channel Hromadske (‘Public’).
Hromadske had just launched when the Euromaidan demonstrations broke out in November 2013. These protests led to the resignation of President Yanukovych and his government. The channel quickly gained popularity thanks to its live broadcasts from the streets of Kiev. In 2016, Hromadske was also the first NGO in Ukraine to be issued a broadcasting licence for cable and satellite networks. The channel increasingly took on the role of non-partisan public broadcaster – an institution that up to that point did not exist in the former Soviet republic.
For the people of Ukraine, Hromadske, which broadcasts in Ukrainian, English and Russian, serves as the premier platform for discovering and understanding new developments in their country. Both during the annexation of Crimea and when unrest broke out in Eastern Ukraine. Even though Hromadske still works from a single studio and operates on a non-commercial basis, over the last three years, it has developed into a professional television broadcaster that serves an audience of almost 1 million people. The channel can be viewed throughout the country via YouTube. Except for the Crimean Peninsula – formally at least. Here, Hromadske’s signal is blocked by the Russian government, although many viewers are able to bypass this restriction.
Hromadske’s non-partisan position isn’t universally appreciated, however. In July 2016, the channel was targeted by an organised pro-government online trolling campaign. On its Facebook page, the Ukrainian army’s press service accused Hromadske’s reporters of smuggling a Russian journalist to the frontline. In addition, it claimed they had revealed Ukrainian troop positions, which had allegedly exposed the soldiers to enemy fire.
“As soon as this message was posted on Facebook, something strange happened,” recalls Hromadske’s Director Katya Gorchinskaya. “Within five minutes, it had been shared over 360 times. Usually, a message like that has a few dozen shares at most. We received angry calls from soldiers and furious messages via social media.” Technical research by the channel proved it was a case of click fraud, a type of fraud that artificially boosts the number of likes for a post. Online trolls are increasingly being used to make it difficult for critical media organisations. “Our journalists see too much. We were the first people to report on the illegal prisons operated by the Ukrainian secret service. We were subjected to heavy criticism – and even attacks. But we won’t let ourselves be silenced.”
Hromadske is one of the partners contributing to the new Russian-Language News Exchange. The channel has big plans: in 2017, it wants to expand its audience to 7 million people via Ukraine’s cable networks.